One after the other, parents at a Family Weekend meeting expressed their concerns regarding the use of alcohol and the campus environment, with many politely but forcefully telling President Charles M. Vest and other MIT officials that freshmen should not be forced to choose a place to live during their first week on campus.
Many of the 500 parents who packed Rm 10-250 at the Saturday morning meeting thought the housing decision should be postponed until sophomore year, with all freshmen required to live on-campus for the entire year, or at least the first semester. Parents also called for more frequent communication with the administration.
The meeting, scheduled as a plenary session, turned into a two-hour discussion of R/O week procedures, alcohol policies, the roles that fraternities, sororities and independent living groups play in campus life, and the pressures on youthful undergraduates.
"We knew our students were terrific," said Rosalind Williams, dean of students and undergraduate education, midway through the meeting. "Now we know where it comes from."
Carol Orme-Johnson, a house-master at Bexley Hall, Professor of Chemistry Robert Silbey, co-chair of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, and Iddo Gilon, president of the Interfraternity Council and a junior in electrical engineering and computer science, joined President Vest and Dean Williams in addressing the parents' concerns.
After President Vest and his wife, Rebecca, greeted the parents, Dr. Vest discussed MIT's reaction to the alcohol-related death of freshman Scott Krueger on September 29. He said the Institute was in the process of reviewing R/O, alcohol and housing policies.
"All of this has caused a great deal of discussion and introspection among our faculty, students and staff," he said. "We think this is good. We have been listening."
The first parent to speak, the father of a freshman who had joined a fraternity, wondered how the Institute planned to curb alcohol abuse in the community. President Vest said increased supervision and tighter controls were likely, but "there is no silver bullet.
"We're not going to implement a police state on campus," he said.
Another father said parents needed more information about housing choices. He said his son joined a fraternity--but the choice was "more art than science." He added, "They need more information; they need more coaching."
The mother of a freshman noted that the same problems existed on campus when she was a college freshman 30 years ago. "I'm not sure the Institute can solve an American cultural issue," she said before expressing concern about the possibility of hazing. "Not much of that goes on here," said Mr. Gilon.
The father of a sophomore noted that more information about fraternities and other living groups shouldï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½be provided, including grade point average of members, violations and other data that provide background on the culture and the people in the house. "They're all great kids here, but let's not lose sight of the fact that they're kids," he said.
A mother asked for a continuous dialogue with the Institute. She wondered why Campus Police reports did not include reports of underage drinking--"I know all about stolen bicycles." Another mother called on President Vest to correspond with parents every three weeks.
A mother wondered whether students receive the message "that it's OK not to drink" during orientation. Noting that MIT "embraces the mantra" of freedom of choice for students, a father called for an "emphasis on helping students make good choices." Another father said he viewed MIT the way he viewed democracy: "It's not perfect, but it's better than anything else."
A mother said she and her husband wept when they heard about Mr. Krueger's death and called for a moment of silence to end the meeting. "We'll take a moment now to sit quietly," said Dean Williams, adding, "Hearing from you has been so important. This has been a thoughtful and high-level discussion."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 22, 1997.